My Life in Treasury
An Interview with Gavin Jones, EMEA Treasurer, Avon Cosmetics Limited
This month, Helen Sanders, Editor, talks to Gavin Jones who recently joined global beauty company Avon after nearly a decade with Royal Ahold NV. Gavin was a winner of the TMI Award for Excellence and Innovation in Cash Investment in the 2013 Awards.
How did you first get into treasury, and what attracted you to the profession?
My introduction to treasury was partly accidental, partly deliberate. Having studied business studies at university, I was working in finance for a glass manufacturer, Solaglas (now Glassolutions, part of the Saint-Gobain Group). This included monitoring budgets and accounting for machinery sourcing from Europe, particularly Italy. To do this, we needed to translate the ITL value into GBP, which was based on information provided by group treasury. I found my interactions with treasury interesting, so while I finished my degree on a part-time basis, I took a module in treasury management. From the first lecture, which was on the subject of interest rate swaps, I knew that this was an area of finance in which I wanted to be involved.
At around the same time, an opportunity arose at Volvo Trucks in the UK in a subsidiary treasury function. As Scandinavian businesses have a reputation for leading the field in treasury management, this was a great opportunity to develop my skills and knowledge of best-in-class treasury techniques at the start of my treasury career.
How did your career progress to the role you hold now at Avon?
I spent three years at Volvo, which involved a wide range of treasury activities, such as cash pooling, managing FX exposures and implementing electronic banking systems, which were far less prevalent in the early 90s. I was also very fortunate to have an excellent manager who was very supportive in helping me to develop my treasury career, which included studying for the Association of Corporate Treasurers’ (ACT) exams.
After three years, I realised that there was a limit to what I could achieve in a subsidiary treasury function, so I made the decision to seek a group treasury role. In 1998, I moved to Tesco plc, where I stayed for the next seven years. Initially, I worked as a dealer, then front office manager, and finally, European treasurer. This was an amazing period to work for Tesco, with the expansion into Asia Pacific, the introduction of non-food product lines and the launch of Tesco’s financial services division. There was also a great team in treasury over that time, and we still keep in touch.
By that time, my wife and I were contemplating taking a career break and spending some time overseas, which we had never had the opportunity to do. We had thought of travelling for a year, but while we were planning it, I was approached by a head hunter for a role at Royal Ahold, based in Geneva. I knew the company, including the financial challenges it had experienced in 2003, and recognised it was an opportunity to be involved in a ‘turnaround’ treasury department, and introduce greater centralisation, financial and operational efficiency. We decided to make the move to Geneva, initially with the intention to stay for a couple of years, but ultimately remained there for nine and a half years, and our daughter, who is now four, was born there. The vast majority of that time was with Ahold, split into two tranches. In between, I worked for Japan Tobacco International which gave me a useful experience of working in a truly global business.
Last year, although working for Ahold had been a great experience working alongside a really professional team, we decided that if the right opportunity came up, we would come back to the UK to be nearer our families. I was approached by a former manager to initially find out my thoughts on how Avon could develop a regional treasury function. I came to the UK, talked to the EMEA finance team and global treasurer, enjoyed the discussion and subsequently was then invited to join the company to implement those ideas. Joining Avon was an attractive proposition, as it was a brand new role enabling me to be part of building a regional treasury structure from the bottom up. At the same time, it provides an opportunity to find new ways to support a unique business that economically empowers women across the globe through more than six million independent representatives.
It’s a big decision to relocate overseas, but given the international nature of treasury, it is a growing trend. What advice would you give based on your experience?
An overseas move needs to be considered carefully, particularly the impact on the family, and the career of the trailing partner. It is important to think about whether you will able to integrate into a new environment, particularly in a foreign language. We benefited from the large expatriate community in Geneva, and we were fortunate that we both spoke some French. Despite the difficulties, however, it is definitely an experience I would recommend. Working for an overseas business is quite different to working in your home market, and Ahold’s and JTI’s treasuries comprised a wide variety of nationalities and cultural backgrounds. As a manager too, managing a multinational, multicultural team can be challenging, but also very rewarding.